The Use of Private Judges in California Family Law Cases.

The Role of Private Judges in Resolving Family Law Disputes

In California, the use of private judges offers an alternative route for resolving family law cases, such as divorce, custody, and property division. Private judging can be a practical solution for parties seeking a more confidential, efficient, and personalized legal process. This article delves into the specifics of how private judges operate within the California family law system.

Understanding Private Judges

Private judges, also known as private temporary judges or judicial referees, are experienced attorneys or retired judges who are appointed to act with the same authority as a public court judge in particular cases. California law allows parties to agree upon and appoint a private judge under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 638 and 639. Once appointed, the private judge has the power to make legally binding decisions in the case.

Advantages of Opting for a Private Judge

There are several benefits to choosing a private judge over traditional court litigation:

The Process of Selecting and Appointing a Private Judge

To appoint a private judge, both parties must consent. They may select from a list of qualified candidates or agree upon an individual they trust. The appointment is formalized through a stipulation agreement submitted to the court. Upon approval, the private judge is granted the authority to manage proceedings and make binding decisions on behalf of the court.

Examples from California Cases

An illustrative case is that of In re Marriage of Burkle, where billionaire Ronald Burkle sought to have his divorce proceedings handled privately. By employing a private judge, Burkle aimed to keep sensitive financial information out of the public eye. Another high-profile example includes the divorce case of actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who initially used a private judge to manage their complex custody and property issues discreetly.

Challenges and Considerations

While there are clear benefits to using private judges, there are also considerations that parties must weigh. The cost can be significant since parties pay for the private judge's time. Additionally, there may be concerns about impartiality given that the judge is hired by the parties involved. However, ethical guidelines and oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure that private judges remain fair and unbiased.


The use of private judges in California family law cases provides an alternative pathway for dispute resolution that can offer increased control over scheduling, privacy, and selection of judicial expertise. As with any legal decision, it is critical for parties to consider their specific circumstances and consult with legal professionals before opting for a private judge.